URC Round Eight - teams and predictions
FRIDAY PREVIEW: Unloading his ‘young guns’ on a seasoned Scarlets outfit is a risk John Dobson is prepared to take.
The defending champions get Round Eight of the United Rugby Championship underway in Cape Town on Friday, fielding a very young and inexperienced team.
Despite the high expectations on the South African franchise to always field a world-beating team, the reality is that the Stormers will field a team with just two Springboks – a collective 27 Test caps, between Joseph Dweba (four) and Herschel Jantjies (23).
It is also a well-documented fact that six key Springboks are in the national team to face England at Twickenham on Saturday – almost 170 Test caps worth of experience that are absent.
In stark contrast, their opponents on Friday have 280-odd Test caps worth of experience – 100 of those coming from seasoned Welsh international Jonathan Davies, who was also a stalwart on two British and Irish Lions tours.
It’s a brave call, but Dobson is looking at the long-term picture.
“The players getting an opportunity this week have all been training incredibly hard all season and are determined to make the most of this game,” Dobson said.
“We are pleased with the depth we have built already this season and this is also a side that features plenty of experience in key positions, so we are excited to see how they go.
“This selection forms part of a clear strategy to prepare ourselves to be competitive across the various competitions we are involved in this season.
“We have an exciting young generation of young players coming through and it will be a big challenge for them against a team which boasts almost 300 Test caps, but we are looking forward to it.
“I have no doubt these guys can do it,” he said of the enormous challenge they are facing.
The Stormers coach said they aim to be part of the ‘top table’ of the game at franchises level.
“This squad, if we can keep them together, it is going to be spectacular,” he told @rugby365com, adding: “They are such good youngsters.
“We just have to be brave and blood them.
“There is not one guy I am worried about.
“They just have to get out there and play.”
He added that Friday’s selection would give the Stormers’ frontline team a run for their money with their speed and passion.
Looking at the Scarlets, he spoke of their willingness to keep the ball in hand and play “amazingly attractive” rugby.
“However, they have a really gnarly pack, with some really big ball carries.
“It will be a tougher game than what we would have thought of a Scarlets team four or five years ago.”
Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel said they are looking forward to the challenge of tackling the defending champions in their own backyard.
“We are not where we want to be on the table,” he said of the Welsh region’s position – second from last with just one win from seven starts.
“However, we have an exciting block ahead of us.
“We need to climb the ladder in the URC and then have a good start in Europe and it starts on Friday.
“When you play out here you have to match the South African physicality.
“The Stormers are a team who like to play expansive rugby, but first and foremost we have to match that physicality.
“We also need to be more ruthless when it comes to taking opportunities, which we haven’t really done in the first block of matches.
“We had a great game against the Stormers at Parc y Scarlets at the end of last season. We have to make sure we show that mettle again.”
(Continue below @king365ed’s interview with John Dobson…)
* Meanwhile, World Cup-winning Springbok No.8 Duane Vermeulen will captain Ulster for the first time since arriving at the Irish province last season – when they host Zebre at Ravenhill Stadium.
Alongside the seasoned Bok will be brothers Matty and Marcus Rea, who get the nod at blindside and openside flank respectively.
Zebre handed new signing Matt Kvesic his debut in their No.8 jersey to oppose Vermeulen.
Zebre is sitting bottom of the URC standings after suffering seven defeats out of seven games thus far ahead of a daunting match.
“The guys have been lapping up that we are back to a match week,” Ulster assistant coach Dan Soper said.
“We’re looking at ourselves, the opposition, and what we’re going to do on Friday, and we are really looking forward to getting going now.”
Zebre coach Fabio Roselli said: “The November Test break has allowed us to recharge our energy and identify what is progressing and what we need to improve.
“We have introduced innovations in all areas, in the game and in methodology; this makes us eager to express ourselves in Belfast, at home of a top European team.
“Ulster have great physicality, a very solid pack and the ability to create a lot of problems when they play with rhythm. We have prepared ourselves to face them head-to-head with determination.
“We want to express enthusiasm, fun and competitiveness, trying to find the characteristics of our playing identity.
“As in the past, the biggest challenge will be to start the game the way we have prepared. We are excited to see Riccardo Genovese and Matt Kvesic at work, in this first opportunity.”
* All the teams and predictions for FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 25, follow below …
Stormers v Scarlets
(Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town – Kick-off: 19.00; 17.00 Ireland & UK time; 17.00 GMT)
@rugby365com: Stormers by five points
Stormers: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Angelo Davids, 13 Cornel Smit, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Kade Wolhuter, 9 Paul de Wet, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Marcel Theunissen, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Gary Porter, 4 Ernst van Rhyn (captain), 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Alister Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Jean-Jacques Kotze, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Sazi Sandi, 19 Connor Evans, 20 Ben-Jason Dixon, 21 Kuyenzeka Xaba, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Jean-Luc du Plessis.
Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Tom Rogers, 13 Jonathan Davies (captain), 12 Scott Williams, 11 Ryan Conbeer, 10 Dan Jones, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Dan Davis, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Tom Price, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Harri O’Connor, 2 Daf Hughes, 1 Steff Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Taylor Davies, 17 Kemsley Mathias, 18 WillGriff John, 19 Blade Thomson, 20 Tomás Lezana, 21 Archie Hughes, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Steff Evans..
Referee: Eoghan Cross (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Morné Ferreira (South Africa), Paul Mente (South Africa)
TMO: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Ulster v Zebre
(Ravenhill Stadium, Belfast – Kick-off: 19.35; 20.35 Italian time; 19.35 GMT)
@rugby365com: Ulster by 25 points
Ulster: 15 Stewart Moore, 14 Ethan McIlroy, 13 James Hume, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jake Flannery, 9 Nathan Doak, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Marcus Rea, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Cormac Izuchukwu, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Tom Stewart, 1 Callum Reid.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 David McCann, 21 Michael McDonald, 22 Angus Curtis, 23 Ben Moxham.
Zebre: 15 Lorenzo Pani, 14 Jacopo Trulla, 13 Richard Kriel, 12 Enrico Lucchin (captain), 11 Simone Gesi, 10 Geronimo Prisciantelli, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Matt Kvesic, 7 Giacomo Ferrari, 6 Guido Volpi, 5 Andrea Zambonin, 4 Jan Uys, 3 Matteo Nocera, 2 Jacques Du Toit, 1 Juan Pitinari.
Replacements: 16 Marco Manfredi, 17 Daniele Rimpelli, 18 Riccardo Genovese, 19 Leonard Krumov, 20 Iacopo Bianchi, 21 Ratko Jelic, 22 Joey Caputo, 23 Erich Cronjé.
Referee: AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Andrew Cole (Ireland), Robbie Jenkinson (Ireland)
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
* Additional reporting by @URCOfficial